Comprehensive review underway following death of Cree teen in government care

B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth promises to review case after youth’s family and Indigenous leadership call for investigation.

A comprehensive review by the Representative for Children and Youth (RCY) is underway following the death of a Cree youth who died while under the care of the B.C. government. 

The 17-year-old was found deceased in his closet on Sept. 18 — four days after a group home worker informed the youth’s mother that he was missing, according to a news release from the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC). Out of respect for the family, IndigiNews is not publishing the youth’s name, as we did not seek permission to name him. 

“When we learned of this, we gathered the information within a couple of days, and I decided that I wanted to do a comprehensive review,” says Jennifer Charlesworth, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth (RCY). “Which basically means we get all of the files, all of the historical documents, material from the services that have been provided to him.”

The RCY provides oversight to the B.C. child welfare system and is responsible for conducting independent reviews and investigations when a child dies in government care. 

After completing a comprehensive review, Charlesworth says it’s “highly likely” that the RCY will decide to launch a full-on, independent investigation. 

“The [B.C. Coroners Service] is also doing her investigation, and so we, by law, have to wait until that’s completed in order to determine exactly what we’re going to do going forward,” Charlesworth explains.

We contacted the B.C.’s Coroners Service to inquire about a timeline for their investigation, but they did not respond to us by the time this story was published. 

“I do know from discussions that this is at the top of their priority list,” says Charlesworth.

The youth was under the care of Xyólheméylh, also known as Fraser Valley Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society. Xyólheméylh is a Delegated Aboriginal Agency in the Sto:lo Nation area that serves First Nation, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families.

In a statement, Xyólheméylh wrote, “The agency has launched an internal review into the events and circumstances surrounding this tragedy and will be fully cooperating with all external investigations.”

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Child and Family Development said in an email that they are unable to comment because of the ongoing provincial election. 

Charlesworth says that if the RCY decides to launch a full investigation, which she says typically takes up to 18 months, her team will keep the family and Indigenous leadership  informed at all stages.

She says that after an investigation is complete her team will work with those responsible for children in the government’s care, “holding them to account in terms of action plans.”

“We are dealing with generations of systemic and structural oppression in the historical and ongoing impacts of colonization,” she says. “While there’s no quick fix in this, there is on-going accountability that I think is critically important.” 

The RCY’s decision to launch a comprehensive review comes in the wake of calls from family and Indigenous leadership for a full investigation. 

“Despite the troubling circumstances surrounding the death and repeated requests from the family for a full investigation, the death was immediately deemed a suicide,” reads a Sept. 29 news release from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. 

“Abbotsford police and the child coroner assigned to the case quickly determined there were no grounds for further investigation or an autopsy, leading the family to reach out directly for support from First Nation leadership.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, here are some resources that are available. Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645) and Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868 or text CONNECT to 686868) offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues. If you need immediate assistance call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. The Centre for Suicide Prevention (1-833-456-4566) is a place where resources on suicide prevention can be found.

Help us raise $25,000 to get justice for Indigenous families who have lost their children

We just want to know what happened to our Indigenous children — and we’re continuing to fight for answers. On June 12 and 13, the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) is taking B.C’s Information and Privacy Commissioner and IndigiNews to the B.C Supreme Court. Why? To keep redacted documents from our storytellers. What is MCFD fighting so hard to hide?

We want answers. Will you pitch in so we can continue to hold colonial institutions accountable?

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